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Officials keep eye on area oil exploration efforts

Lincoln County supervisors are keeping an eye on increased oil exploration and drilling in Southwest Mississippi, but are taking a wait and see approach before they determine what Lincoln County’s role should be in moving forward.

     “Here in the last two weeks, I’ve seen a lot of Haliburton trucks going through the county,” said District Three Supervisor Nolan Williamson, commenting on the influx of drilling activity in the region.

     A supervisor in Pike County, Chuck Lambert, recently suggested counties in the area, including Amite, Lincoln, Pike, Walthall and Wilkinson, should be represented on a regional committee dealing with oil-related issues.

     Williamson, president of the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors, said he’s open to the idea of a committee but doesn’t have enough information right now to say more than that.

     “I don’t know what he’s after,” Williamson said of Lambert. “I heard about it, but I haven’t talked to anyone.”

     Though he’s not been approached by anyone about it, Williamson said he could imagine some usefulness to such a committee.

     “The value of it would be just showing our concerns,” Williamson said.

     Elaborating on those concerns, Williamson highlighted damage to roads and fears of water well contamination.

     “You can’t keep a road patched down here, not around these fields,” Williamson said. “You get all that heavy equipment, you damage roads.”

     According to Williamson, drilling rigs can weigh 110,000 pounds or more while most county roads are designed to handle loads of about 37,000 pounds.

     Williamson has also heard fears oil drilling using hydraulic fracturing can damage or possibly contaminate aquifers.

     “I hope they keep a close eye on the wells,” Williamson said. “Their engineers are going to have to be very careful down there.”

     Though the bulk of recent drilling activity has been farther south, particularly in Wilkinson and Amite counties, Lincoln County has had some recent exploration, said supervisors.

     Since Christmas, wells have been dug on Tiger Trail and Hurricane Lake Drive, said District Four Supervisor Eddie Brown. He said the Hurricane Lake well was ruled dry and he hasn’t heard any results of the well on Tiger Trail.

     Regardless of where in the region drilling occurs, Williamson is confident Lincoln County will see ramifications, both positive and negative.

     “Suppliers, transportation, trucking: It’ll be a pretty good impact for us,” Williamson said.

     In addition to the regional committee, Lambert has suggested counties in the region should receive a higher percentage of severance taxes.

     Severance taxes are paid whenever resources such as oil, gas or timber are extracted. Counties receive a certain percentage of the taxes paid within their borders, and the state receives the rest.

     The percentage of the taxes counties receive reportedly varies from 15 to 33 percent.

     “I’ll go along with that,” Williamson said, of increasing area county’s percentages. “The more money you get, the more things you can do. If you can dig up an extra eight, nine, ten thousand dollars, that can go a long way.”

     However, Williamson is very skeptical the Legislature would ever approve such a measure.     

     District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, agreed.

     “Counties need all the money they can get, but it’s going to be a tough sell to the Legislature,” Currie said.

     Regardless of how the Legislature would take it, Currie said she’s willing to listen to and consider any such proposals from local leaders.

     District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, said he’s supported previous efforts to up severance tax percentages in other counties.

     “I’ve already voted for it,” Moak said.

     Williamson and Brown both agreed that should a proposal for either a regional committee or move to request an increased share of taxes come before the board, it would receive more serious consideration at that point.